Challenging assumptions about uninsured children in the pediatric emergency department

William M. McDonnell, Elisabeth Guenther

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objective: Emergency departments (EDs) are experiencing increased volumes and crowding problems. Although crowding is often blamed on uninsured patients, the role of uninsured children is unclear. We compared ED use by insured and uninsured children. Methods: Parents of children presenting at a tertiary care pediatric hospital ED were surveyed to determine health insurance coverage and frequency of ED use. Hospital billing records were reviewed separately to validate our survey results. Results were compared with Census Bureau data on the prevalence of uninsured children. Results: We enrolled 2024 participants in the survey arm. Of all children 48.4% (n = 972) were privately insured, 42.1% (n = 846) have government insurance, and 9.5% (n = 191) were uninsured. Billing records showed that 10.2% (n = 3825) of pediatric ED patients during the previous year were uninsured. Census data showed that 13% of children statewide were uninsured. Among survey subjects, uninsured children were more likely than privately insured children (53% vs 42%), but less likely than children with government insurance (67%), to have moderate ED use (≥1 additional ED visit in 12 months; P < 0.001) or frequent ED use (≥5 visits in 12 months; 4% vs 2% vs 8%; P < 0.001). When private and government insurance categories were combined, uninsured children showed no greater likelihood of moderate ED use (53% vs 53%, P = 0.89) or frequent ED use (4% vs 5%, P = 0.71) than insured children did. Conclusions: Uninsured pediatric patients were not disproportionately represented in the ED population. Moreover, uninsured children were not more likely than insured children to be moderate or frequent ED users.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-439
Number of pages4
JournalPediatric Emergency Care
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • emergency department crowding
  • emergency department use
  • health care delivery/access

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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